Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Little Fear and a Lot of Fun

As I mentioned in the previous post, everything we learned and practiced during the first weekend of Scuba training came easy to me. I grew up near and in the water, was on my high school swim team, and underwent life guard training as well. So all the skills our instructor asked us to demonstrate in the pool were not a problem. They were fun, and even the ones that seemed impossible like filling our masks with water and clearing them while submerged were surprisingly doable. We learned how to handle every possible issue that could take place under water, and I felt prepared if any of these things were to happen while diving.

The next weekend Jason and I kissed our kids goodbye and headed to the dive shop for our rental gear before taking to the road for Florida and my first open water dives. Jason would be trying some new skills too as he worked on his Advanced Diver's certification.

Saturday morning was cool and cloudy as we arrived at Vortex Springs in Ponce de Leon, FL. I would be completing three of my four required open water dives there, and showing my instructor that I could do all the skills we learned in the pool...only this time I'd be doing them about 20 feet under water.

Demonstrating our skills in Vortex Springs
I felt ready, prepared, and excited to finally do this thing for real! We took our first plunge into the water and it was COLD. We had on wet suits and that helped...eventually. A wet suit traps water in, limiting the flow in and out, allowing your body heat to warm the cold water. That makes swimming in cold temps bearable. It was about 68 degrees in the springs, so it was just that... bearable.

Going underwater was amazing! There were fish everywhere! Right next to me, all around me. I even reached out and touched a few. As I tried to slow my breathing (the cold was shocking at first), I took in the sights around me as I slowly descended holding onto a rope tethered to the bottom. I could see other divers around me practicing their skills as well. We swam around a little and then settled on the bottom to demonstrate our skills.

Everything went really well until I was asked to remove my mask underwater, replace it, and clear it. This hadn't been a problem in the pool, but for some reason, when I let the cold water into my mask, my nose wanted to inhale. Trying to prevent this made me quickly replace my mask, slow my breathing and try again. This happened a few times and it was a little unnerving. The sensation of wanting to breathe through my nose and not being able to, made me a little panicky. I finally cleared my mask, looked at my instructor and shook my head no. He gave me the "okay" sign and we moved on.

We completed our three dives, but I knew I would have to master that skill before I'd be certified. I'd have one more chance this trip, when we did our drift dive in the Rainbow River further south. I was happy with the day's experience, but the fact that I hadn't mastered that one skill hung over my head. I tried to shake it off. I knew I wasn't scared, and I knew I could do it. But I remembered the panicky feeling, and it worried me.

We drove to Tallahassee where we spent Saturday night, and Sunday morning we finished the drive down to Dunnellon, FL. The day was beautiful and sunny, and the river was gorgeous. I was excited to try this drift dive, but I still had to remove my mask underwater...

Stepping in with the help of my amazing instructor, Sean.
We took a boat up river and then hopped out to "drift dive" back. There were all kinds of things to see on this dive - much more than Vortex Springs, and I loved it. Jason was by my side more for this dive and that made it much more fun. Finally we reached a 20 foot deep section and my instructor turned to me and signaled for me to deflate my BCD (buoyancy control device) and sink to the bottom. I knew it was time. I'd prayed about it, practiced it in the shallow water, and while the fear threatened to resurface, I knew I had to complete it. I knelt on the bottom, gave him the signal for "give me a minute" (I made that one up, but he understood), and very, very slowly let the water creep into my mask. I did it inch by inch...or maybe centimeter by centimeter, and as it filled my mask I closed my eyes and focused on breathing through my mouth. At one point I felt Jason pat my arm, giving me reassurance.

Eventually my mask was full and I removed it. I replaced it, cleared the water out of it, and wanted to shout! I almost gave the thumbs up sign, but in diving that means "ascend" so I did the ok signal with both hands. Sean, my instructor, shook my hand, and I grabbed both of his and squeezed. He got the message. I was so excited to have done it, and so grateful for his instruction and patience. He flipped open a tablet he had clipped to his BCD and showed it to me. It said," CONGRATULATIONS!  YOU ARE A CERTIFIED OPEN WATER DIVER!" Or something along those lines.

This girl just became a certified open water diver!

I was so excited and relieved! I squeezed Jason's hand and brought it to my mouth piece - and he got the message too. I was grateful to have him next to me, assuring me and believing in me. We continued our dive, exploring vents, chasing big fish, and enjoying all the underwater beauty that surrounded us. I was finally a certified open water diver, and that, along with diving itself, felt amazing. Now I could enjoy the rest of our trip (MANATEES!) with that accomplishment in my pocket.

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